The Great Scottish Sporran

Published: 05th January 2012
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A sporran is an essential part of Highland dress when wearing a kilt, both to keep the tradition of the outfit as well as for practical reasons, where else to keep your flask of whisky and mobile phone…

As early as the twelfth century Highlanders were described as being "bare-legged, with shaggy cloaks and 'a scrip' or small bag. During this time only highlanders wore the traditional Feileadh Mor or great kilt and such dress was looked down upon by the lowlanders. The kilt at that time consisted of a large piece of tartan cloth, untailored that was worn over the shoulder fastened in place with a broach at the shoulder and belted around the waist. The material, being hardwearing and waterproof was ideally situated to the conditions and provided more comfort that trousers, but with one disadvantage - not pockets! Hence the creation of the sporran. Sporrans at that time were different from those we see today. Made simply from leather or other animal skin they were gathered at the top using a basic draw string. Highlanders in the Western Isles also wore cloth pouches which were known as trews.

The evolution of the sporran from its humble beginnings to the ornate offering of today can be traced back through history in paintings of the time and items from as far back as the fourteenth century which are preserved in various Scottish museums. One of the most interesting sporrans is that which contained a hidden pistol, primed to go off in someone other that its owner dared to open it! The poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott was so inspired by an 18th century, pistol-firing sporran he incorporated it into his story Rob Roy in which Roy himself declared, "I advise no man to attempt opening this sporran till he has my secret." Sounds advice given its contents!

Sporrans became more elaborate in their design from the seventeenth century onwards, when a cantle made of metal or even silver if you happened to be an important figure such as a clan chief was incorporated into the design. Cantles featured beautifully designed emblems such as Celtic symbols. These sporrans were often designed with a flap top and three tassels and used a range of furs including fox, horse and sealskin - all of which can be seen in the sporrans currently on offer. The traditional military sporran was introduced in the eighteenth century and were splendid to see as part of a military regiments - they were made from long goat-hairs and known as, sporran molach.

The sporran should hang down from a sporran chain so that it sits under heath the belt buckle. As the two are seen close together it is common to match their designs as well as that featured on the sgain dhub. When it is inconvenient to have the sporran hanging down in front, for example when dancing or driving it is perfectly acceptable to have it hand from the side of the waist. For the best look as well as comfort a sporran should be worn a few inches below the belt. If you are taking part in highland dancing wearing the sporran slightly lower may help to keep the kilt from flying up and preserve your modesty.

There are three min categories of sporran to choose from and tradition and common usage are fairly prescriptive as to which suits which occasion. The Day sporran as you will probably have guessed is most suited to day time and more casual events such as foot matches. Made form brown or black leather, a simple motif may be carved into the leather and generally it has three tassels, overall the look is a simple adornment.

Dress sporrans can be slightly larger that day sporrans and are usually highly decorative, with a fur face and sterling silver cantle which is itself highly patterned, usually with a Celtic motif such as a thistle, clan or Masonic emblem. Celtic knots are also popular.

If you are looking for a show-stopper of a sporran, an animal mask sporran would certainly fir the bill - made from an animal belt the head forms the sporran flap - badger and fox varieties are particularly popular.

Piper sporrans are made of horsehair, the long hair swishes as the pipers march and adds to the visual element of any regimental display. In general long -haired sporrans are only used by pipe bands.

In between the Day Sporran and the Dress Sporran is the Semi Dress Sporran, this sporran lies somewhere between the dress and the day sporran - having a short-hared body. A semi-dress sporran is tee most versatile of the sporran types and can be worn for many day and more formal events.


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Anna Murray works for Edinburgh's Scotland Kilt Company. For more information about sporrans, kilts and Prince Charlie jackets please do get in touch. www.thescotlandkiltcompany.co.uk email info@thescotlandkiltcompany.co.uk Or call 0131 225 3555

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